Pro Bono

At Legal Services of Greater Miami Inc., law clerks and legal interns alike look forward to lunch on Fridays; Friday lunches are the rare opportunities to interact with those working in different units of the organization as well as engage in discussion led by varying individuals who have expertise in a wide range of topics. The theme of our lunch this week was on pro bono work and non-profits in general, and LSGMI invited two attorneys from corporate law firms to speak on their experiences taking cases pro bono. Both attorneys accumulated significant track records in taking cases pro bono, such as assisting in the upkeep of voting booths and representing Home Owner’s Associations for residents of mobile home parks. I was mildly surprised that such large law firms would delegate to their attorneys the discretion to take cases pro bono, but the attorneys assured us that law firms strongly encourage their employees to take on cases outside of the firm’s direct sphere of influence, especially as associates.

As the session neared its conclusion, the attorneys delivered a sobering truth: the transition from law firm to public interest work is much easier than the jump from non-profits to law firms. In other words, even the most altruistic minded individual might be better off initially starting in organizations with established networks and connections. As someone interested in eventually serving impoverished and communities in need, I realized then how difficult it is to provide medical care for individuals who do not have the financial means for these services. It ultimately begs the question, how do you balance pro bono work while still looking out for yourself? Each promotion within one’s job renders public service jobs less and less desirable for many people. As countless others interested in healthcare have contemplated, I must also, in the near future, decide which route to take.

-Chris Yoo

Justice for All

I can’t breathe.
Hold in the tears.
Heart is racing.
Control it.
I can’t stop thinking of my daddy, my nephew, my friends, my family.
It could be them.
It could be me.
My children. It could be them.
The love of my life. It could be him.

I finally had the strength to watch the videos of police officers murdering two black men. I know there are many videos of officers killing black men, so let me be specific. The victims in these videos were Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. I regretted it immediately as a wave of sorrow, regret, guilt, and pain rushed through my entire body. I felt a knot form in my throat, choking on the reality, the senselessness, of this world.

Every day I go to an internship, and fight to help people immigrate to this country; a country that preaches the ability to provide opportunity, and is a beacon of hope to many. Less than a week ago I was watching a firework show, listening to anthems celebrating this country that I love as a place of justice and equality and freedom.  Today, I mourn over the same country. The country that was built on stolen land, that profits off of the exploitation of black and brown bodies. I love my country, but as a Black Latina Woman, my country doesn’t love me. My country doesn’t love my brothers and sisters if they don’t fit a historically narrow, hate-filled mold of what an American should be.

-Symonne Singleton

Five Things I Learned from Losing My Headphones

5. I like alone time.

I believe most people would describe my personality as that of an extrovert, happy to be around people and reciprocating the energy from the group. While being social does make me happy, DukeEngage has taught me that I’m more of an introvert than most people would realize. Being alone gives me time to breathe a sigh of relief, think my own thoughts, and be mindful of my experience. Living in tight quarters with three other people, working a daily 9-5 schedule and taking public transportation doesn’t provide for a lot of those opportunities. I enjoyed having headphones because listening to music and having the opportunity to immerse myself in my own thoughts was a necessary aspect of my daily routine.

4. Even relaxing takes proper planning.

I made a mistake in my preparation for Miami. I packed clothes and remembered my umbrella and all of the chargers for my devices, but forgot to bring a piece of mindfulness with me. Everyone needs an outlet for stress or anxiety, and I just so happened to leave all of mine at home. I didn’t pack my ukulele, which I use to write music and decompress. I didn’t bring my gym sneakers with the idea that going to the beach would be a frequent option for relaxation.  I didn’t even try to sneak my cat through TSA to have a furry face to come home to everyday.

I made the mistake of assuming the beaches of Miami would be similar to the experiences I had in Honolulu and north Florida: convenient, quiet, and calming. Not having a car, feeling the pressure to include the rest of the cohort on an off-campus outing, and the lingering anxiety of traveling alone in an unknown city quickly dried up the only source of mental hydration I planned for.

3. Perspective Eases Frustration

Very rarely does anyone talk to someone with headphones on. It is the universal symbol for, “Please do not talk to me unless it is to tell me that something is on fire.” While this is something that I usually prefer in environments where privacy is hard to come by, hearing guest lecturer, Dr. Neira, discuss the power of perspective gave me the chance to think about this problem differently.

I noticed it one morning walking from the metro to work, a time when we often pass homeless people. A woman was yelling incoherently into the street at the general passing public when a gentleman smiled at her as he passed by.

“See? He knows what I mean!” she yelled, and then she burst into song and began waving her arms at anyone walking by.

While I can’t speak for her, I can say that it seemed to give her strength and validation to be acknowledged. This experience made me consider all of the people who would crave and long for interaction with others and suddenly left me feeling unappreciative for the everyday opportunities to speak to people on the metro, to bond with fellow members of my cohort.

2. Fishbowl Effect

Not having my headphones forced me to focus my attention on other things, and in a not necessarily positive way. I became preoccupied with my appearance, checking and rechecking my hair in the reflection of the metro window, looking down and adjusting my skirt if I caught someone glancing in that direction, or worrying if my makeup had smudged after rubbing my eye. I suddenly became a fly on the wall to any conversation happening nearby, a tiebreak vote in watercooler arguments.

People often say “unplugging” from your devices is a good way to cleanse your mentality and add some serenity to your life, but I experienced the opposite effect. For me, unplugging had the effect of bringing attention to little things that didn’t really matter.

1. Catcalling sucks.

I’ve come to accept that there is nothing in this world I could do to eradicate the city of Miami from all catcalling, nor is there anything I can do to absolutely prevent it from happening to me. However, listening to music provided an easy escape from the constant, everyday leering of passersby who are far too old to be excused from their actions.

Easily the least enjoyable part of my experience, catcalling has not become something I’ve grown accustomed to, but something that now makes my blood boil with every  lingering, preying, predatory stare, with every sly grinned wave, and especially with every sickly sweet, “Good morning beautiful.” Whether it is directed at me, or any of my friends, it bothers me that a person could hold that much power over others. With a slight move or a couple of words, the men we pass everyday on our walk to work have the power to make our walk to work feel unsafe and uncomfortable. Being able to block out that situation gave me the power to have control over my space again. For those who think I may be embellishing or melodramatic, the link below will send you to a video that will give some perspective and validity to my experience. It’s a social experiment meant to provide perspective to those who don’t have experience with catcalling Hopefully by the time you do, I’ll have my hands on another pair of headphones again.

-Jessica Womack

Don’t Spread Yourself Too Thin

This week as work was busy as usual, and I loved it. I always have something to do and someone waiting for my help on another project, translation, intake, etc. Feeling needed is great, especially when you hear of others sensing that they’re on the other end of the utility spectrum.

One trend I’ve noticed about myself all my life, especially in high school, is that I’m a try-hard. And I obviously would refer to myself in the derogatory sense of the word; I think I’m a try-hard in the sense that I put every ounce of effort I have into just about everything I do. Maybe the correct term is an over-achiever? To me it seems that an overachiever performs better to achieve more success than expected. A try-hard puts in a lot of effort to achieve fame or recognition in a way that ruins the fun for others.

When I feel like I’m needed or can be of use to anyone, I like to give it my all for what seems to other people like no reason at all. It could be a sort of self-validation. Perhaps my self-worth increases through the praise of others. But that’s also just how I’ve been raised. My dad always told me, “It doesn’t matter what the task is, big or small, do it well or don’t do it at all.”

Living with this mentality for sure has its downfalls. For example, when someone asks me if I’m able to finish a task by the end of the day, I’ll always say yes, no matter how much I have to do. This can mean having to work through my lunch (willingly, of course) or taking three-hour “naps” when I get back to the dorm. Sometimes, in an effort to contribute everything I have, I contribute more that I can, which can be tiring. That’s something I definitely need to work on. I think I associate being unable to complete certain tasks with weakness, which is definitely far from the truth. It will take a bit more humility on my part to get used to the fact that having my limits doesn’t insinuate limits. Instead, it just means I’m human.

-Kim Perez

Tired.

I have no words, yet when I think of this past week, nothing else comes to mind. Alton Sterling. Philando Castile. I am tired. I am disgusted. I am sorry. I am hopeless. I am looking for solutions, but I feel lost. Where is the America that I learned about in schoolbooks? The last 3 years of my life have been an unwelcome wake-up call regarding the reality of racism in the United States. I do not have time to process one incident before hearing about another, whether it is one that occurred directly on campus or elsewhere in the nation… I don’t have anything to say that hasn’t already been said, but I know I should still publicly join the conversation. I don’t understand any of this, but I especially don’t understand how so many can be so complacent.

Trevor Noah highlighted how messed up society can be by contrasting the outrage associated with the death of a captive gorilla with the more subdued reaction to the death of innocent black men. One would think that having solid video evidence in the digital age would be a sure guarantee of justice. But it isn’t. I’m not sure if it gets much scarier than that.

When I woke up to the Dallas shooting on Friday morning, I was even more worried. Violence is not the answer, and as one my friends mentioned, “If we thought the cops had trigger fingers before…” As we were further informed throughout the day, my friends and I were all itching for the media to put more emphasis on the fact that the peaceful protesters are not to blame. The media did later make it clear in their articles and we were thankful, as we didn’t want an attack like this to perpetuate tension between the black community and law enforcement.

I try to wonder what goes through the minds of these police. While confronting these black men, do they really think the only option is, “My life or yours?” It’s extremely hard to believe, but that’s what they say and that’s how they evade taking full responsibility of their actions. Something needs to change and I thought that change was coming after Eric Garner, then I thought after Michael Brown, then I thought after the power of the Black Lives Matter movement. But I am still waiting and we are still hurting. We need true protection under the law.

We need justice.

We need peace.

-Emma Bunting

I Don’t Speak Creole

Each Friday at LSGMI, all of the interns have a lunch where a speaker comes in and discusses a topic related to our work. I don’t think I realized just how impactful these lunches and the speakers were until this week’s speaker talked about what she does for a living. The speaker discussed what community lawyering is. She talked about how community lawyering is not an individual coming to her in need of help, but instead going out into the community to help people without a voice. She said that the end goal of community lawyering was to put herself out of a job. I found this confusing at first, but when the speaker elaborated it made much more sense. If community lawyers didn’t have work that would mean the world would be in a much better place, all people in the community would have an equal voice, and the problems that arise when poor people are taken advantage of would no longer exist. This made me realize just how lucky I was to work alongside people who cared this much about bettering their community. I also realized just how limited the voices of some people in Miami are after connecting her discussion to an interaction with a woman and a man in one of our trailer park visits just a few days earlier. We were trying to speak with a woman who seemed to only speak Creole. Neither I nor any of the other interns speak Creole. In order to communicate with the woman, we had to find another man who spoke both English and Creole to translate for us. I was happy that we were eventually able to communicate with the woman, but questions began to form without answers. What would we have done if we had not found this man? What happens if he is not conveying information to us or her properly, will her voice truly be heard? This situation made me realize that for various reasons, such as poverty or language barriers, that a person’s voice may not only go unheard, but possibly misrepresented.

-JJ Finkel

Land of the Free

Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Freddy Gray…Alton Sterling, Philando Castile. Aurora, Newtown, San Bernardino…Orlando, Dallas. Police brutality and mass shootings have taken the lives of so many Americans who are just like us, citizens who just want to be with their loved ones as they celebrate Independence Day. Are we really shocked that these horrible acts constantly reoccur? Or do we simply choose to ignore what happened after a week? Perhaps what are most disappointing are our immediate reactions towards these incidents. Instead of showing empathy towards the victims’ families, we find the need to justify the murder, argue on Facebook about the legitimacy of gun control laws, or downright dismiss whatever happened. Why are we so compelled to see who is right or wrong when there are families and loved ones grieving? How incredibly selfish are we to feel the need to impose our thoughts over the dead bodies.

This past weekend, our cohort spent the 4th of July on South Beach and watched the fireworks near the Biltmore Hotel. It was a restful day off of work, but the fireworks also reminded me of spending 4th of July every year with my family. These broken families will never get to celebrate Independence Day again with their entire family intact. Hopefully there comes a day when we not only celebrate Independence Day for the country’s sake, but for a truly free country without anyone fearing police brutality or mass murders.

Rest in Peace to all of our victims.

-Chris Yoo